The impact homelessness and the opioid crisis are having on San Francisco streets

Outside the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in downtown San Francisco, a woman urinates on the sidewalk and s...

Posted: Dec 31, 2018 11:21 AM
Updated: Dec 31, 2018 11:21 AM

Outside the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in downtown San Francisco, a woman urinates on the sidewalk and smokes a crack pipe.

Inside her purse are about a dozen used heroin needles. She shoots heroin up to 10 times per day, she says.

California

Continents and regions

Controlled substances

Drugs and society

Health and medical

Homelessness

London Breed

North America

Political Figures - US

Poverty and homelessness

San Francisco

Social and economic status

Societal issues

Society

Southwestern United States

Substance abuse

The Americas

United States

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Epidemics and outbreaks

Opioid epidemic

Opioids

Pharmaceutical industry

Pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceuticals and prescription drugs

Prescription drug abuse

Public health

About 50 yards away, a man injects another woman in the neck with a needle. She puts her thumb in her mouth and blows on it to make her vein more visible. Her right arm is caked with dried blood.

This San Francisco neighborhood is home to the headquarters of Uber, Twitter and Salesforce. But stroll around here, and you're also likely to find used drug paraphernalia, trash, and human excrement on the sidewalks, and people lying in various states of consciousness.

Public drug usage and homelessness are not new problems for the city of San Francisco. But residents say the situation has gotten worse in recent years. As of October, 7,500 complaints about discarded needles have been made this year, compared with 6,363 last year. In 2015, the number was less than 3,000.

It's moved some locals -- so-called "video vigilantes" -- to document the mess they see, in an attempt to get the city's attention.

Adam Mesnick, a restaurateur who lives and works in the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood, started posting daily photos and videos of people using drugs in public, urinating near his restaurant, or lying passed out on the sidewalk.

"More mrsa and staph on the streets of San Francisco," Mesnick wrote in one post, accompanied by photos of angry sores on people's backs, hands and legs.

One photo shows a man planted face down on the sidewalk, his shorts pulled down exposing his rear. In another, human feces lies nestled in front of a doorway. In a video apparently taken from inside Mesnick's restaurant, a man can be seen urinating in a doorway across the street.

Mesnick isn't trying to shame homeless people with his Twitter posts, he says, but "to actually find help for these people." He's been giving leftover food from his restaurant to the homeless for the past ten years, he said.

Over the past five or six years, Mesnick says, visible homelessness and drug use on the streets have seemed to spread from areas of San Francisco where they were once concentrated, like the Tenderloin.

"It's like third world squalor," Mesnick said. "I'm a small business (owner) trying to exist, and basically surrounded by decay that continues to get worse and worse and worse."

Others fear that the situation will impact tourism. "If we can't find a solution to this problem," said Joe D'Alessandro, CEO of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, "it will tarnish the city's brand."

Another longtime resident tweets about the state of the neighborhood using the handle @cleanupwestsoma. He asked to remain anonymous because his friends don't know he runs the account, and says he's lived in San Francisco for 21 years, 12 of them in SoMa.

"I post as I go to work. I'll sometimes come home from lunch and see a giant drug deal going on," he said. "I'll leave and go back to work and see someone going to the bathroom in the street. It blows me away that this continues to happen in the city."

Mesnick and @cleanupwestsoma want to send a message to city officials about what's happening in their neighborhoods. They often tweet at San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who took office in a special election in July after the death of Mayor Ed Lee.

"You know what? I already had the message, as a native San Franciscan, as someone who's been here all my life," Breed told CNN. "It isn't acceptable."

Breed, 44, made tackling homelessness and drug addiction a signature of her campaign platform. She says the city has been making changes since she took office, and that they're slowly starting to have an impact. "It's not an unsolvable problem," she said.

Last week, the mayor announced a detailed plan to direct a $181 million cash windfall the city received from the state to homelessness, affordable housing and related problems. The proposal includes nearly $20 million to be spent on beds for patients who have addiction and mental health problems. An additional $4 million would go toward expanding street cleaning.

And Breed says visible progress has already been made.

"If you walk with me right now, you will see the difference," she said. "You'll see more police officers. You'll see the homeless outreach team. You'll see people power-washing on a regular basis and picking up trash." Tent encampments are down by 27% since she took office, she said.

Kevin Schwing, who works in SoMa, said that despite the city's efforts, he doesn't see a change in the numbers of people on the streets.

"I don't really know what the city can do," he said. "The city cleans up sidewalks every day. But I don't see any difference in terms of the amount of people."

"I see human waste. Injections. Probably 10 times per day," he said. "Sometimes people look like they're dead."

Breed says the city is cracking down on drug dealing, and aims to open at least 1,000 new shelter beds by the end of 2020.

And she's looking at new ways to approach these entrenched problems, she says. Breed supports safe injection sites -- facilities where people can inject heroin in a private setting and under the supervision of health care workers. The sites would "not only be a way to get people off the streets and get the needles off the streets, but to get people into treatment," Breed said. California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation earlier this year that would have allowed safe injection sites in the state.

She also supports conservatorship programs for the severely mentally ill, which would allow the state to "make decisions for them in order to place them into mental health stabilization beds, instead of our criminal justice system." Gov. Brown recently signed a bill that would allow such action to take place.

Breed says she hopes the "video vigilantes" tag 311, the city's non-emergency complaint service center, in their posts. The information they're putting out helps the city address challenges in specific neighborhoods, she said.

The city's Department of Public Health recently partnered with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, essentially hiring contract workers to fan the streets and collect used needles.

Crisis intervention teams have also stepped up their efforts to provide addicts with the drug buprenorphine, a narcotic to help reduce a person's addiction to heroin and other opioids.

"We go to people that are using drugs and offer them treatment instead of the traditional model which has people coming into a clinic," said Dr. Naveena Bobba, the department's deputy director of health.

The city has also launched the so-called "poop patrol," a team that responds to complaints of feces on city streets.

SoMa resident Alesia Panajota said she sees an impact. "They're doing the best they can," she said. "I think things are getting better under London Breed."

San Francisco may also see an influx of cash to help solve the crisis, after a controversial ballot measure passed in November. Known as "Prop C," the measure is viewed as a "homeless tax" -- it aims to raise $300 million a year to spend on homeless services by taxing big businesses.

Salesforce Chairman and Co-CEO Marc Benioff spent at least $7 million of his own money to help ensure Prop C's passage. "We have to say enough is enough," he recently told CNN.

But legal challenges could prevent the city from receiving the funds for several years.

In the meantime, Mesnick keeps posting. He recently put up a video interview with a homeless man talking about how difficult it is to find a place to go to the bathroom after dark.

"Help this guy," Mesnick wrote. "Keep the restrooms open at night? Perhaps we change usage of our space and make it a bathroom share? Better than on our front stoop..."

"We are in a severe epidemic here," he told CNN. "My angle may seem to be a little rough around the edges, but it's really about compassion."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 34211

Reported Deaths: 2125
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9761576
Lake3573186
Allen160069
Cass15877
St. Joseph126634
Elkhart126228
Hendricks116671
Hamilton115493
Johnson1097108
Madison58659
Porter53428
Bartholomew50834
Clark49741
LaPorte43023
Howard40428
Tippecanoe3933
Delaware38536
Jackson3821
Shelby37122
Hancock33127
Floyd31839
Boone31635
Morgan27824
Vanderburgh2662
Montgomery23817
White2338
Noble22821
Clinton2271
Decatur22431
Grant21022
Dubois1993
Harrison19422
Henry17211
Greene16924
Vigo1688
Dearborn16821
Monroe16712
Warrick16628
Lawrence15924
Miami1401
Putnam1367
Jennings1304
Kosciusko1271
Orange12622
Scott1193
Franklin1108
Ripley1086
Marshall1021
Carroll932
Daviess8516
Steuben832
Wayne785
Fayette777
Newton7710
Wabash772
LaGrange762
Jasper661
Washington521
Clay511
Jay500
Fulton491
Randolph473
Rush462
Pulaski460
Jefferson451
Whitley413
Starke393
DeKalb371
Sullivan351
Owen341
Brown331
Perry320
Wells310
Benton300
Knox280
Huntington272
Tipton251
Blackford252
Crawford240
Fountain212
Switzerland200
Spencer201
Parke170
Adams171
Posey160
Gibson152
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin110
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0167

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 118917

Reported Deaths: 5330
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook771193603
Lake8238288
DuPage7620368
Kane6259176
Will5510273
Winnebago220955
McHenry153972
St. Clair112180
Kankakee90045
Kendall77819
Rock Island65124
Champaign6277
Madison57259
Boone44117
DeKalb3994
Sangamon34829
Jackson28210
Randolph2694
Peoria2218
McLean21813
Ogle2033
Stephenson2012
Macon19419
Clinton18617
Union15510
LaSalle15013
Whiteside13912
Iroquois1314
Coles12615
Out of IL1181
Warren1150
Jefferson10116
Grundy982
Knox980
Monroe9511
McDonough8711
Lee811
Unassigned800
Cass730
Tazewell725
Henry690
Williamson661
Pulaski560
Marion500
Jasper457
Macoupin452
Adams441
Perry420
Montgomery391
Vermilion391
Morgan361
Christian354
Livingston342
Jo Daviess320
Douglas270
Fayette203
Ford201
Jersey201
Menard200
Woodford192
Mason180
Washington180
Hancock170
Mercer170
Carroll162
Shelby161
Bureau151
Schuyler130
Bond121
Franklin120
Clark110
Crawford110
Fulton110
Moultrie110
Piatt110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Logan100
Wayne91
Alexander80
Henderson80
Johnson80
Effingham71
Massac70
Saline70
Greene50
Marshall50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland30
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
Wabash20
White20
Calhoun10
Edgar10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
Terre Haute
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 57°
Robinson
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 57°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
60° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 60°
Rockville
Broken Clouds
54° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 54°
Casey
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 59°
Brazil
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 57°
Marshall
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 57°
A calm evening is expected
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events